Robert sheckley — pilgrimage to earth
Pilgrimage to Earth
Alfred Simon was born on Kazanga IV, a small agricultural planet near Arcturus, and there he drove a combine through the wheat fields, and in the long, hushed evenings listened to the recorded love songs of Earth.
Life was pleasant enough on Kazanga, and the girls were buxom, jolly, frank and acquiescent, good companions for a hike through the hills or a swim in the brook, staunch mates for life. But romantic — never! There was good fun to be had on Kazanga, in a cheerful open manner. But there was no more than fun.
Simon felt that something was missing in this bland existence. One day, he discovered what it was.
A vendor came to Kazanga in a battered spaceship loaded with books. He was gaunt, white-haired, and a little mad. A celebration was held for him, for novelty was appreciated on the outer worlds.
The vendor told them all the latest gossip, of the price war between Detroit II and III, and how fishing fared on Alana, and what the president's wife on Moracia wore, and how oddly the men of Doran V talked. And at last someone said, “Tell us of Earth.”
“Ah!” said the vendor, raising his eyebrows. “You want to hear of the old mother planet? Well, friends, there's no place like old Earth, no place at all.
On Earth, friends, everything is possible, and nothing is denied.”
“Nothing?” Simon asked.
“They've got a law against denial,” the vendor explained, grinning. “No one has ever been know to break it. Earth is different, friends. You folks specialize in farming? Well Earth specializes in impracticalities such as madness, beauty, war, intoxication, purity, horror, and the like, and people come from light-years away to sample these wares.”
“And love?” a woman asked.
“Why girl,” the vendor said gently, “Earth is the only place in the galaxy that still has love! Detroit II and II tried it and found it too expensive, you know, and Alana decided it was too unsettling, and there was no time to import it on Moracia or Doran V. But as I said, Earth specializes in the impractical, and makes it pay.”
“Pay?” a bulky farmer asked.
“Of course! Earth is old, her minerals are gone and her fields are barren.
Her colonies are independent now, and filled with sober folk such as yourselves, who want value for their goods. So what else can old Earth deal in, except the non-essentials that make life worth living?”
“Were you in love on Earth?” Simon asked.
“That I was,” the vendor answered, with a certain grimness. “I was in love, and now I travel. Friends, these books…” For an exorbitant price, Simon bought an ancient poetry book, and reading, dreamed of passion beneath the lunatic moon, of dawn glimmering whitely upon lovers' parched lips, of locked bodies on a dark sea-beach, desperate with love and deafened by the booming surf.
And only on Earth was this possible! For, as the vendor told, Earth's scattered children were too hard at work wrestling a living from alien soil. The wheat and corn grew on Kazanga, and the factories increased on Detroit II and III. The fisheries of Alana were the talk of the Southern start belt, and there were dangerous beasts on Moraica, and a whole wilderness to be won on Doran V.
And this was well, and exactly as it should be.
But the new worlds were austere, carefully planned, sterile in their perfections. Something had been lost in the dead reaches of space, and only Earth knew love.
Therefore, Simon worked and saved and dreamed.